Yamaha has been on a product tear over the past few years. The FZ-07, -09, and -10 Hyper Naked sportbikes are fantastic, and the sub-liter FZs are a screaming value to boot. The tuning-fork brand is gunning for Harley with its humongous Star Venture, a full-dress tourer that combines Japanese refinement with a stonking huge V-twin. The latest version of its vaunted R1 race replica consistently wins raves from the motorcycle press. And now, well, there’s the Niken.
Two wheels up front and one in the rear isn’t exactly a new idea. Can-Am’s Spyders offer an open-air experience for those who, for whatever reason, would rather not be astride a two-wheeler. The Morgan 3 Wheeler is an archaic hoot. And Piaggio has been building its MP3 line of scooters for over a decade now. It’s this last machine that the Niken most closely resembles. The Piaggio and the Yamaha differ from other three-wheelers by employing a front-suspension setup that allows a three-wheeler to lean like a bona fide motorcycle while offering reassuring, tripod-like stability as well as a larger front contact patch.
Where the Niken splits from the MP3 is in the realm of performance. While the scooter makes for a citified runabout (though we know a couple of guys who shelved their BMW GS adventure bikes for a summer and took a pair of MP3s cross-country), the Niken’s heart is pulled from the FZ-09. It’s an excellent 847-cc liquid-cooled triple that put 105 horsepower to the rear wheel on the Cycle World dyno last year. We don’t expect the Niken to best the FZ’s sub-11.0-second quarter-mile time due to additional weight and frontal area, but the thing still should be a veritable ripper.
We hesitate to pigeonhole Yamaha’s new invention, but lower-body injuries have a way of taking riders off the bike unwillingly. And at that point, being able to be out in the air, moving through space and time, becomes paramount over any perceived aesthetic indignity. We don’t know that the Niken will carve out a new segment for three-wheeled sportbikes, as in, we’re not sure Honda and Ducati will follow them into the trikey breach, but we’re glad it exists. Yamaha has been thin on details, but we will apparently see it in America, and we might find used Spyders and Harley Tri Glides going for fire-sale prices now that ladies and gents opting for or needing three-wheelers have an option that gives ’em their lean back.